Archive

Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lianne McTavish is feminist, fearless, forthright, and very funny. Everything on her blog is worth a read. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll piss you off. And you’ll learn something in the process. You can get most recent post, about the craze for monkey testicles (!), here.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I have no idea what will.

Happy reading!

Advertisements

I spent a glorious morning on Wednesday reading the dictionary. Actually, I read several dictionaries. And an encyclopedia. To be completely honest, I didn’t read the whole dictionary or encyclopedia; I read selected entries in each one.

My terrain? The dictionaries included in the ARTFL project’s  Dictionnaires d’autrefois database. It’s a great collection that spans almost three full centuries of thought.

Given my work in eighteenth-century studies, I generally focus on the dictionaries published between 1694 and 1798:

  • Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 1st edition (1694)
  • Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 4th edition (1762)
  • Jean-François Féraud, Dictionnaire critique de la langue française (1787-1788)
  • Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, 5th edition (1798)

Within these, I am most interested in the fourth and fifth editions of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, as they neatly bookend my current research project: the French version of Tissot’s treatise on onanism appeared in 1760 and it was closely followed by what would soon come to be seen as his magnum opus, the Avis au peuple sur sa santé, which appeared just a year later. The letters to Tissot start streaming in immediately after this. The letters end in 1797, the year of Tissot’s death.

These two editions also bookend a particular interesting period in European political and intellectual thought: the French Revolution at the end of the century is perhaps the most obvious marker, but we can’t forget the publication of such key works as Rousseau’s Emile (1762), Julie (1761), Du Contrat Social (1762) (is my Rousseau bias showing yet?).

Dictionaries and encyclopedias provide fascinating insights into how a community thinks (or thought). A survey of several dictionaries, published across a span of several decades, can be particularly intriguing because it allows you to trace the trajectory of meaning (this is also why I enjoy perusing the Oxford English Dictionary Online http://www.oed.com/). Meanings can change subtly, even in a space of 30 years, and those subtleties can be deeply revealing.

Among other things, yesterday’s forays took me to such concepts as “peuple” and “patrie.” On the surface, those terms would appear to be self-evident, and, indeed, there are only minor changes in their definition between 1694 and 1798. But these changes are, to me, highly significant.

So let’s take a closer look.

In 1762, the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française offered the following under the first heading for “peuple.”

PEUPLE. s.m. Terme collectif. Multitude d’hommes d’un même pays, qui vivent sous les mêmes lois. Le peuple Hébreu. Le peuple Juif. Le peuple d’Israël. Le peuple Hébreu a été appelé le peuple de Dieu. Le peuple Romain. Les peuples Septentrionaux. Les peuples d’Orient. Les peuples Asiatiques. Les peuples du Nord. Les peuples de Provence, de Dauphiné, &c. Tous les peuples de la terre.

Looking more closely at the entry under the second heading offers further insight:

PEUPLE se prend quelquefois pour Une multitude d’hommes qui sont d’une même religion, soit qu’ils soient du même pays ou non. Ainsi en parlant des Juifs, on dit, que Le peuple Juif est dispersé par toute la terre.

En parlant à un Prince de ses Sujets, on lui dit, Vos peuples, votre peuple.

Il se dit aussi d’Une multitude d’habitans qui vivent ou dans une même ville, ou dans un même bourg ou village. Il y a beaucoup de peuple dans Paris. Tout le peuple du bourg, du village accourut.

Il se prend aussi quelquefois pour La partie la moins considérable d’entre les habitans d’une même ville, d’un même pays. Il y eut quelque émotion parmi le peuple. La plupart du temps, le peuple ne sait ce qu’il veut. Il n’y avoit que du peuple à la promenade. ….

Interesting here is the way that this concept integrates questions of socio-economic class with broader concepts of social location, education, religious belief, and geography.

The 1798 definition is very similar: there is still a Jewish people, spread across the earth; there is still a grouping of residents living in the same region, there is still a prince and he still has his people.

But the new definition elaborates on the idea of the prince and his “peuple”:

En parlant à un Prince de ses Sujets, on lui dit, Vos peuples, votre peuple, non pour exprimer que le peuple est sa propriété, mais qu’il est l’objet de ses soins.

In this new iteration, the Prince’s subjects are not his possessions to do with as he pleases; rather, they are possessions for he must take responsibility: the people are the object of his care and concern. This is a substantive change, one that acknowledges and reflects the political and ideological transformations wrought by the French Revolution (it is entirely possible that this meaning was already implied in previous editions; however, it is clear that the editors of the dictionary felt it was important to articulate this point directly and overtly in this edition).

When we look at the word “patrie,” we see similar operations at play. Let’s start with the Encyclopédie entry (also available through ARTFL; English translations of some articles are available through the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project , for which I have also contributed five translations).

Interestingly, Jaucourt, author of the Encyclopédie definition of “patrie” links the concept to the idea of the family: “patrie,” of course, comes from the Latin root pater, or father. But he also actively gestures towards a maternal imaginary, waxing poetic on the idea of patrie as nurse and mother:

C’est une nourrice qui donne son lait avec autant de plaisir qu’on le reçoit. C’est une mère qui chérit tous ses enfans, qui ne les distingue qu’autant qu’ils se distinguent eux – mêmes; qui veut bien qu’il y ait de l’opulence & de la médiocrité, mais point de pauvres; des grands & des petits, mais personne d’opprimé; qui même dans ce partage inégal, conserve une sorte d’égalité, en ouvrant à tous le chemin des premières places; qui ne souffre aucun mal dans sa famille, que ceux qu’elle ne peut empêcher, la maladie & la mort; qui croiroit n’avoir rien fait en donnant l’être à ses enfans, si elle n’y ajoutoit le bien – être….

What is clear, in any case, is that “patrie” is linked to a notion of family, of belonging, of membership. The “patrie” is a family cocooned in generosity, benevolence, care and grace, an entity that wishes good for all who belong to it.

So what does this mean for the dictionary entries? The 1762 entry offers the following:

PATRIE. s.f. Le pays, l’État où l’on est né.

The definition here brings forward questions of belonging by virtue of birth (which, once again, links to the idea of the family and the nursing mother), but what is more interesting are the examples offered:

La France est notre patrie. L’amour de la patrie. Pour le bien de sa patrie. Pour le service de sa patrie. Servir sa patrie. Défendre sa patrie. Mourir pour sa patrie. Le devoir envers la patrie est un des premiers devoirs. Cicéron est le premier des Romains qui ait été appelé le père de la patrie. On étend quelquefois ce mot à des Provinces, à des Villes. Paris est sa patrie.

Patrie inspires deep commitment and responsibility; the responsibility to protect, to serve, to defend … to die for the homeland. Belonging carries with it immense responsibilities.

These elements are also present in the 1798 version, but with one key difference. By 1798 it is no longer enough to die for the homeland. This conceptualization has been expanded:

Il est doux de mourir pour la patrie.

Death is no longer just a responsibility; it is sweet, good and right, a balm undertaken for the good of the whole.

After this spate of hiring is finished, I’ll get to frolic more frequently with dictionary entries. I can’t wait.

so. a few things on the news in the past few days.

This piece, in today’s Guardian Online about racial profiling of ethnic minority Britons between 1999 and 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/apr/22/ethnic-minority-britons-stop-search-white

And then I stumbled across this, in today’s Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/04/22/should_blacks_and_whites_dance_together_integrated_prom_shines_racism_spotlight_on_southern_georgia.html .

Unlike the first, which doesn’t surprise me, but which is, nevertheless, disappointing, I don’t know where or how to begin here. I’m baffled. I’m stunned. My jaw is somewhere near the ground. There’s so much going on here…the ‘integrated prom’ seem tangential to much deeper issues, but is also, simultaneously, emblematic of all of those issues. As Harriet Hollis, interviewed in the article, states:

“The prom is the symbol, but the absence of black teachers in the Wilcox school system is the material issue. Some of these kids have gone through their entire school years not seeing a single black professional. We talk about racial healing — but sometimes you have to break open the wound so the healing can truly happen.”

At issue in both of these pieces is citizenship – the right to belong. the right to act on one’s belonging. to participate. to know that you will never be challenged on your right to belong.

All of which led me back to this piece published in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Boston bombs: http://www.timwise.org/2013/04/terrorism-and-privilege-understanding-the-power-of-whiteness/ .

In it, Tim Wise argues the following:

… white privilege is the thing that allows you (if you’re white) — and me — to view tragic events like this as merely horrific, and from the perspective of pure and innocent victims, rather than having to wonder, and to look over one’s shoulder, and to ask even if only in hushed tones, whether those we pass on the street might think that somehow we were involved.

It is the source of our unearned innocence and the cause of others’ unjustified oppression.

It’s a great piece of whiteness and privilege and I may well bring it into class in the fall.

How do we begin to change the way that racialized bodies are imagined and read? How can we even begin to speak about citizenship until we’ve actually properly healed other wounds?

 

I’ve been reading Annie K. Smart’s Citoyennes: Women and the Ideal of Citizenship in Eighteenth-Century France over the past few days, and as I read, I’m finding myself nodding along.  Moving away from – but still indebted to – scholars like Joan B. Landes, Carole Pateman and others who argued that women were actively excluded from political citizenship in the eighteenth century, Smart instead argues for a different vision of citizenship. Drawing on the insights of Uma Narayan, she asserts that citizenship is not just about public rights such as the right to vote or hold office, but it is about active engagement with and for the good of one’s society. As Smart writes:

A feminist vision of citizenship would embrace all members of a nation who actively participate in civic and political life….According to Narayan, citizenship is about belonging: ‘Citizenship has always been about membership, participation and belonging as well as about respect, dignity, status-equality, and a variety of rights.’ Citizenship is thus an active quality that demands participation in matters relating to the public good. (7)

I find this vision of citizenship immensely appealing. It responds to concerns I had when I first encountered the work of Landes, Pateman and others, and it also responds to my personal fascination with Rousseau. Now, Rousseau’s been a thorn in feminism’s side for a good while. Some feminist thinkers hate him. Some love him. Others find his work contradictory, ambiguous. Almost nobody is ambivalent. What is clear is that there is no single ‘feminist’ response to Rousseau. Nope, we’re all over the place on what Rousseau is saying and what his visions have to offer (or not). While I personally find Rousseau’s work problematic on some levels, I am also very much drawn into other aspects of his political vision and I’m really not ready to toss him overboard.

But back to Annie Smart. Smart’s argument is that the home was the key incubator of citizenship; it is in the home – and through the actions of nurturing mothers (mothers who nursed not only with their milk, but also with their care – that individuals developed their understandings of citizenship. In this conceptualization, the home is not a private, domestic space divorced from the political sphere; rather, it is integral to the political. It is the very birthplace of the citizen.

That people identified the home as a site of civic virtue is evident in the letters addressed to Tissot as well. While the performance of maternal virtue – the nursing mother, the doting mother, the mother who puts her health on the line for the sake of her child(ren) – is an obvious starting point, it’s also been very intriguing to read about virtuous fathers. Such fathers foreground their parental responsibilities, articulating a vision of citizenship premised not only on their own social positions as workers, but also on their roles and responsibilities as parents and further, on the health of their children (and how this health might affect their ability to contribute to the public good). Fatherhood and family are integral to their presentation of self. Equally interesting are the letters from individuals who experienced bodily distress as a result of family conflict. In these instances, bodies manifested emotional distress; in numerous cases, Tissot indicated that bodily disorder was the result of “chagrin” – grief as a result of discord and struggle.

If one thing is clear from reading these letters, it is that the family and the domestic were not imagined as passive or neutral spaces; rather, they were deeply implicated in questions of moral and civic virtue.

Meet Monsieur Ouvrard de Linières. He writes to Tissot with fears about his health. Having read Tissot’s treatise on Onanism, he details a range of behaviours that appear to derive from a seemingly innate inclination towards immoderate behaviour, expressing concern that he is suffering the potentially fatal after effects of excessive engagement with the pleasures of the flesh.

As a child, he gave himself over fully to the activities of childhood, playing games, running, exercising. But all of this activity was undertaken with excess. Later, he learned to swim. But, like his earlier physical engagements, he was unable to exercise moderation: he swam for five to six hours at a time, to the apparent detriment of his health.

Masturbation started as a teenager. Again, he found himself prey to his passions. He masturbated on the example of his friends and soon enough, by the age of 14, found himself in a sexual relationship with his mother’s chambermaid. (He notes that he swam frequently during this period. I’m sure this is relevant, but I’m not sure why, yet)

After his father’s death, some time during his late teens, he engaged in other encounters, but by this time, he had learned the virtue of circumspection.

Interesting in this letter is the positioning of masturbation as an extension of an already evident inclination for immoderate engagement in bodily pleasure. Thus, while games, races and exercise were common to children of his age, he practices them too much: he writes of “excessive” running, “strenuous” exercise. Excess also figures in his introduction to swimming:  it was not enough for him to learn how to swim; instead he had to swim for several hours a day. Similarly, while he points to the influence of others in introducing him to masturbation, his activities soon escalate into a sexual relationship. In each instance, he is seemingly unable to control his passions.

His life, in this sense, is marked by a seemingly inborn propensity for excess. Now in the veritable flowering of young adulthood, he is worried that he might have taken things too far. He writes that he is “prey to the progress of a disease that is as stubborn as it is destructive,” and declares that his only hope rests in Tissot. Is his condition fatal? Is he on the road to ruin?

[Bibliotheque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, Fonds Tissot,  IS3784/II/144.01.07.26]

How does the experience of pain shape understandings of the self? How do we experience pain? How do we articulate it?

Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain remains a key resource in this area. Scarry argues that pain cannot be articulated; physical pain exists outside of language. This understanding then becomes the foundation for her subsequent theorizing on the role and function of torture, as an active erasure of the ability to articulate one’s experiences.

This link between pain and language also asks me to consider the very idea of the self. If the self comes into being through language, then to what extent does the experience of pain compromise selfhood? Does the body in pain undermine the possibility of self, the possibility of the human?

One thing that became clear from a series of Talking Bodies papers by Sonia Cejudo, Georgina O’Brien Hill and Renita Sörensdotter is that pain – an overembodiment of the self, if you will – can lead to feelings of profound alienation; that is, it can lead to a disembodied self.

Thus Sonia Cejudo (a Mexican doctoral student studying in The Netherlands while living in Italy) introduced us to the work of two writers – María Luisa Puga and Estela Dos Santos – one of whom imagines the journey of pain as one that is undertaken by a split self – “my body and I.”  Georgina O’Brien Hill, meanwhile, mused on the disembodiment of labour and delivery in the popular British television show, One Born Every Minute, in which the spectacle of the laboring woman in pain becomes a marketable commodity. Sörensdotter, a researcher at Stockholm University, considered the painful condition of vulvar vestibulitis through the lens of compulsory heterosexuality…In each of these cases, pain fundamentally undermines the capacities of the self.

There is much to think through here, particularly in relation to the letters written to Tissot. What does it mean to be in pain? How to describe it? How to live it? How to craft a self through it?

I leave the last words to Virginia Woolf:

“All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the month of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane – smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending procession of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of all this daily drama of the body there is no record.” (On Being Ill, 4-5)

A friend of mine died last Sunday. I’ve been processing this loss all week. Disbelief and horror have given way to resignation, reflection. Tears threaten, sometimes. And at other times, I find myself smiling. Memories murmur around me, sliding into focus and then out of focus. And each day, something new emerges.

I met Kate in 2008, within a few months of my arrival in Newfoundland. I don’t remember exactly how we met, but I can guarantee that she had Newman, her Newfoundland dog, with her. Newman was her sidekick. Her best bud. Her guardian. Newman went everywhere with her. Newman also resigned himself to silly photos: Newman with a Santa outfit. Newman with Anne pigtails. Newman the brave, the gentle, the big hearted, the trusting, the generous. Newman, the dog who embodies, in canine form, everything that I love about Kate.

Kate and I worked, conceptually at least, in similar research areas: both of us fascinated by life stories, by the paths available for the articulation of the self, and by the meanings that emerge in the process of such ruminations. We were both interested in memory and how memory shapes identity. We have talked about bodies, and bodily memories, and politics.

I have learned much from Kate.

We have spent many hours talking about teaching, about learning, about pedagogy, about reaching first year students. She was absolutely passionate about teaching. And in my conversations with some of her students over this past week, I have come to learn just how very passionate they were about her. She has, literally, transformed their lives.

But our conversations have not only been about teaching. We have talked, too, about women’s studies and about feminisms. About disciplines. About belongings. About exclusions. Serious, thoughtful, sometimes frustrating conversations. Conversations that have no end, really, but that still need to happen. That still need to be shared.

We have also shared social lives. We have laughed at baby showers, parties and playgrounds. We communed over dinners and brunches. She shared Newman’s clownfish stuffy with my son, and later, in another visit, he taught her how to play chess. Kate even spent time teaching me how to drive (and for her patience in that endeavour, I am mightily grateful).

And now, as I say goodbye, it is Kate, too, who will teach me about loss: “Remembrance always has a pedagogical element,” she wrote in a 2010 book chapter  (239).

She expands on this idea in her thesis, where she writes:

The work of the teacher, then, is to grapple with our attachments, and in so doing, this mode of attentiveness can be offered back to our students. Because, as Judith Butler so eloquently states, in grief, “Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something …. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other” (Precarious Life” 19) …. while the experience of loss is painful and difficult – in fact, it can be excruciating – it is also productive because it can disrupt, unsettle and be the catalyst for new knowledges about the self and others. (171-172)

 

Kate was a beautiful woman. Honest, forthright, sensitive, generous, thoughtful. She wore her heart on her sleeve. She lived her life with truth and integrity. She laughed easily.

In the shuffling of office space that accompanied my arrival at Memorial University, her office became mine. I spent the first week trying to figure the voice mail system. After numerous attempts, I managed to change the outgoing message. I never did work out how to change the access code. Nor was I able to change the internal voice message.

But my technical incompetence has had some unforeseen benefits. When I pick up my messages, it is Kate’s code that I type in, and it is Kate’s voice that welcomes me to my voice mailbox. She’s still here. Her spirit will not soon leave this place.

I miss you, Kate.

Kate Bride 21.05.1968 ~ 07.04.2013

 

References:

Bride, Kate. “‘Learning to Love Again’: Loss, Self-Study, Pedagogy and Women’s Studies,” PhD Thesis, Memorial University, 2009.

Bride, Kate. “Death on the Ice: Representation, Politics, Remembrance,” in Despite this Loss: Essays on Culture, Memory and Identity in Newfoundland and Labrador, eds. Elizabeth Yeoman and Ursula Kelly (St. John’s: ISER, 2010), 226-245.